Picturing the mind at work  pg. 5

Dykens found that those who were more musically involved tended to be less anxious and fearful. The goal now is to try to link this observation to specific areas of the brain. “We hope to see how this connection plays out in the imaging studies,” she says.

Functional MRI also is proving to be a powerful educational tool.

Gore was among the first to apply fMRI to evaluate reading disabilities while at Yale University, where he directed the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Research Center.

Children with dyslexia have difficulty recognizing and comprehending written words. Rhyming games and other drills that break down and rearrange sounds to produce different words can help them improve their reading skills.

With fMRI, “you can actually see that in the brain, in the circuits involved in reading,” Gore says. Sequential brain scans indicate that brain activity in these children actually “normalizes,” or begins to resemble activity seen in children without dyslexia.

Doug Fuchs, Ph.D., and Lynn S. Fuchs, Ph.D., are using fMRI to assess treatment of math disabilities at the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.
Photo by Anne Rayner
Gore, who came to Vanderbilt in 2002, is now working with investigators at the Kennedy Center to extend that work to children with math learning disabilities.

Researchers believe math disability—difficulty in solving math problems—may be a different syndrome or have a different cause than reading disabilities like dyslexia, says Lynn S. Fuchs, Ph.D., who, with her husband, Doug Fuchs, Ph.D., has helped pioneer the diagnosis and treatment of learning disorders.

The Fuchses, who share the Nicholas Hobbs Chair in Special Education at Vanderbilt, and Donald L. Compton, Ph.D., associate professor of Special Education, are using fMRI to assess how brain function changes in response to an intervention aimed at improving math skills.

“The reason to do the scanning is… to understand how the brain is changing as math improves,” Gore explains. “Is it changing in a way that makes it look more like a normal brain or is it changing in a way that compensates for some kind of structural problem that really can’t be changed with intervention?

“If you can actually train parts of the brain to do the job the most efficient way,” he adds, “then that is the best thing to do. Imaging can identify optimal strategies.”

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